Tag Archives: Anti-Capitalism

Criticisms of Transnational Corporations 2 – damage to the environment

All of this material is relevant to the global development module – this can be used in an essay that asks you to ‘assess the role of TNCs’ or in any essay that asks you to criticise neo-liberal approaches to development, because TNCs are one of the primary agents of the neo-liberal project. You should read this in conjuction with the previous blog in this thread – I-Nightmares, Killer Coke and Sweatshops – http://realsociology.edublogs.org/2010/08/02/93/

Corporations damaging the environment

images3One of the worst cases of both environmental and social harm is that of Union Carbide in Bhopal. In December 1984 when an explosion at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India caused toxic gas to leak into the local area. 3000 people died immediately, a further 20 000 people have died and 120 000 suffered illness as a direct result of the toxic pollution that even to this day, 25 years, later, is still seeping into the ground water which the local people have to drink. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which should have take on liability for this, but failed to adequately clear up the pollution or compensate the victims of this tragedy. (7) (8)

A second example is the failure of Shell and Exxon Mobile to clear up the pollution of the Niger Delta – Shell in particular has been460_0___30_0_0_0_0_0_shell_skull_colour the target of sustained criticism for failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by its oil pipelines leaking – this particular case being documented in the recent film documentary ‘I’m with stupid’. (9a) (10)

The total harm done in this remote region is far in excess of the recent BP disaster off the coast of America, one recent newspaper article (12) reports that –

‘With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing.’

94300Shell claims that most of the oil spills are due to Vandalism by radical, armed militias, but the local communities claim it is because of rusting and decaying pipes. On this point, it is worth seeing the 2010 documentary film ‘Sweet Crude’ (13) – which actually follows the development of the armed militias mentioned by Shell – it turns out that protests over the combination of pollution and lack of social development following oil extraction used to be peaceful groups but following years of nothing happening, some protestors have turned to more violent tactics. The sad thing is – all they are asking for is their fare share (14)

In fairness to shell – they have provided money to the Nigerian Government which was intended to develop local areas, but given that Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments on the planet, it is no surprise that most of this money has disappeared.

To go back to the Corporation (1), the argument is made that one of the root causes of pollution in developing countries is because TNCs are ‘externalising machines’ – In order to maintain profitability they try to externalise as many costs as they can get away with, and pollution is one obvious example of an externality. All of the above companies have been happy to let local communities bear the costs of their pollution, rather than paying for the cleanup.

 

(1)  http://www.bhopal.org – a link to the homepage of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

 

(2)  – A link to my blog on ‘Bhopal’ – the worst industrial accident in history – check out the links to the ‘yes men’ material – inspiring stuff! (coming soon!)

 

(3)  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Belching-Out-Devil-Adventures-Coca-Cola/dp/0091922933 – A link to ‘Belching Out the Devil – Global Adventures with Cocacola by Mark Thomas, 2008

 

(4)  http://www.ratical.org/corporations/OgoniFactS.html – a fact sheet outlining the history of Shell in Nigeria

 

(5)  http://www.ageofstupid.net/ – web site of the DVD the age of stupid – a film about humanity polluting the planet – one chapter of which is devoted to Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta

 

(6)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell – news article outlining how oil pollution in Nigeria is far worse than that caused by the BP spill off the coast of America.

 

(7)  http://www.sweetcrudemovie.com/ – web site for the 2010 movie Sweet Crude.

 

(8)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQTcSC79YYE – a clip of local Nigerians protesting about their oil being taken and them getting nothing in return.

Why any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement

RSA video and podcast of David Harvey on the credit crunch – David Harvey has read, re-read and taught Marx’s Capital every year for the last four decades. According to him ‘any sane person today would join an anti-capitalist organisation, because otherwise we are screwed’ (or something along those lines) –

And the podcast from Thinking Allowed –  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s3fzq

 My summary of the above two together – These are relevant to the question ‘Assess the relevance of Marxist theory to an understanding of contemporary society’

This is really quite advanced stuff for an A level student – and quite difficult to understand – I will try and clarify if you don’t get it – catch me at the end of the day sometime!

David Harvey’s basic theory is that Capitalism is a system that grows in boom-bust cycles – the bust phase being what is commonly known as an ‘economic crisis’, which typically requires Nation States to step in and ‘rebalance’ the system to get economic growth going again.  The problem is that the solutions to one economic crisis simply lay the foundations for another crisis, or downturn in economic growth, at some future point in another part of the world, or another sector of the economy.

David Harvey demonstrates one way in which Marxist theory is still relevant to understanding contemporary events – Here is how Harvey explains the ‘credit crunch’ in Marxist terms –

He starts off by pointing out that ‘the excessive power of finance capital’ is the root problem of the current crisis – In other words the banking and credit industries who lend money had (and still arguably have) too much power – but how did this happen?

Harvey goes back to another ‘economic crisis’ in the 1970s to explain this. At this point in history, he points out that wages, especially in the manufacturing sectors, in Europe were too high in order for Capitalists to make a profit. This crisis was solved by outsourcing manufacturing to the developing world where labour is cheaper and a combination of high unemployment in the West and Thatcher breaking the power of unions in the 1980s. This then meant that overall labour costs were lower, restoring profitability and economic growth.

However, wages provide people with the money that buys goods – thus a reduction in wages lead to a reduction in the demand for goods and services, which again reduces profit for Capitalists –

The solution to this problem was ‘pumping up the credit economy’ – or encouraging consumers to get out their credit cards and take on more debt.  The average British household has trebled its debt in the last thirty or forty years, most of this debt being in the form of mortgages, which most of us regard as a normal part of adult life.

The end result of this is that the banking and finance sectors have grown massively in recent years – before the credit crunch, in the mid 2000s, they represented 30% of the British economy. The profits of these industries have soared in 1990s – whereas manufacturing profits were declining and Harvey argues that Britain has screwed the manufacturing industry to keep the financiers happy –

Something else that happened in the last decade was the ‘deregulation of the finance sector’ – banks and hedge funds were given more freedom to lend – and many banks such as Northern Rock did so to people who could not realistically afford to pay back what they borrowed – eventually people woke up to this fact and the banking sector of the economy started to collapse (economic growth based on debt which needs to be repaid – once it’s realised this can’t be repaid it causes a crash)

Of course in Britain, this was a disaster, because baking  represented 30% of our economy – so the government bailed the banks out – and now we have a massive national debt – and what are the Tories doing – cutting our public services by 25% and raising the pension age so we, the tax payer,  can pay for this.

What are we actually paying for – the billions of pounds of profit that the heads of banks have taken in wages and bonuses over the last two decades. We are paying for them – The unequal accumulation of wealth has not stopped – in 2009 more billionaires were created in India than ever and in the same year the managers of the 5 biggest hedge funds in the world shared bonuses of $15 billion.

The wealthy are doing fine out of the credit crunch, while we the people, in our ignorance of how Thatcher and the Bliar pimped our nation to the transnational capitalist class over the last three decades, pick up the bill for their wealth years later.  

Harvey’s theory is that Capitalism can never solve its own crisis problems – it just moves them around geographically – eventually it is the little man that gets shafted while the wealthy just go on getting wealthier. This is classic Marx – all that has really happened since his day is that Capitalism has become more complex, some may say convoluted, but at its root – Capital will always make the little man pay for his wealth accumulation.

Harvey argues that any sensible person right now would join an anti capitalist organisation. If you decide to join one, an interesting debate would be ‘what level of violence is it acceptable to use against the Capitalist class and their Tory apologists in order to get your money back?’

Of course Harvey has his critics, and you might like to read the commentary below the video…

The decriminalisation of death and injury at work

Interesting report on health and safety crimes – stats and enforcement (or lack of it)

From the summary on the web site –

“This briefing argues that fatalities and injuries caused through work are far more prevalent than the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) currently reports. The authors find that more than 80 per cent of officially recorded work-related fatalities are filtered out from the HSE’s headline figure and remain buried in other categories in the official data. After re-assessing the scale of the harms caused, Tombs and Whyte conclude that being a victim of a work-related fatality or injury is far more likely than experiencing conventionally defined and measured violence and homicide.”

From me –

This document also argues that many cases of death and injury at work that are a result of companies breaching health and safety laws, however, most of these cases remain unreported and unprosecuted because the Health and Safety executive, the body responsible for monitoring and prosecuting companies who breach such laws has been downsized in recent years.

Please also note that while the government is throwing money at things like operation trident to try and reduce gun crime, it is taking away money from the agency responsible for prosecuting companies who cause death through negligence at work – when far more people die at work compared to those who die from gun crime.

The report is by Professor Steve Tombs and Dr David Whyte (June 2008)

Vulture funds bill blocked by Christopher Chope, MP

OK this is old news – from March, but I’ve been meaning to write on this for ages… only just got round to it!

This item shows you the following

  • For A2 Global Development – this demonstrates the role of the Capitalist class in keeping developing countries poor – this is due to to the inability of the government to regulate a few unscrupulous hedge fund managers.
  • For A2 Crime and Deviance – The power of the elite minority to prevent just laws that the majority believe in coming into force

I first came across Vulture Funds thanks to this article – which is quoted at some length below…

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-we-must-stop-the-vulture-funds-that-feed-on-the-worlds-poor-1789257.html

39779“Would you ever march up to a destitute African who is shivering with Aids and demand he “pay back” tens of thousands of pounds he didn’t borrow – with interest? I only ask because this is in effect happening, here, in British and American courts, time after time. Some of the richest people in the world are making profit margins of 500 per cent by shaking money out of the poorest people in the world – for debt they did not incur.

Here’s how it works. In the mid-1990s, a Republican businessman called Paul Singer invented a new type of hedge fund, quickly dubbed a “vulture fund.” They buy debts racked up years ago by the poorest countries on earth, almost always when they were run by kleptocratic dictators, before most of the current population was born. They buy it for small sums – as little as 10 per cent of its paper value – from the original holder and then take the poor country to court in Britain or the US to demand 100 per cent of the debt is repaid immediately, plus interest built up over years, and court costs.

Let’s look at two examples in two of the countries most aggressively targeted by the vulture funds – Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I spent a week in a gargantuan rubbish dump in Peru 35 miles north of Lima. It is home to more than 5,000 children. Among them I found Adelina, a little eight-year old smudge, living there in a nest she had built from trash. She spends all day searching for something – anything – she can sell. The vulture funds managed to get $58m out of Peru, on a debt they paid $11m for.

Action Aid launched a campaign to prevent vulture funds from suing indepbted developing countries for their money in British Courts – part of whch involved raising public awareness as most people simply don’t know about them! – see here for more details –http://www.actionaidusa.org/what/intl_policy/vulture_funds/

In March 2010, Labour MP Sally Keeble actually tabled a private members bill to prevent vulture funds from operating in Britain. Having just reviewed some old WDM and Action Aid magazines from that month, they had news reports that assumed these vulture funds would be bloked.

25799_jpgHowever, because this bill was brought before the commons just before the general election, if one member objected, it would not get passed – This member was a Torie MP Christopher Chope – It is rare that you find a living example of scum – but here is one – Christopher Chope MP – Doing the dirty work of hedge fund managers in the house of commons while the poorest people suffer.  

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-mp-blocks-bill-targeting-vulture-funds-1920708.html

What is really aweful about this affair is that at the time of the vote on the bill, three MPs actually covered their mouths when the question ‘are there any objections’ to this bill was raised, so other people in the house could not be sure who actually objected, it was only afterwards that Chope came out as being scum.

Chope’s contact details, should you wish to send him a message…

http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/christopher-chope/25799

Westminster

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 5808
Fax: 020 7219 6938
chopec@parliament.uk

Constituency

18a Bargates, Christchurch, BH23 1QL
Tel: 01202 474949
Fax: 01202 475548
office@christchurchconservatives.com
www.christchurchconservatives.com

Had this bill gone through it would have been a good example of the state regulating the finance sector – but once again here it fails to do so – and this example shows you the appalling lack of morality amongst some conservative MPs.

Lot number 879

I bought a cup of coffee from the Urban Kitchen earlier today – it had a code – lot 879 -attached to it – so I was able to look up details of where the coffee came from online.

http://www.coffeereal.co.uk/kenya-gethumbwini-estate-aa-lot-no879-p-260.html

How often can you say that about a product! This seams to me as one of the best types of fair trade out there – full information about where the product came from – and no attempt to brand it and associate it with a certain lifestyle – you go into a shop – get a menu which roughly outlines the flavour of the coffee – providing you with the option of looking into the productive processes under which the coffe was produced – and you drink it! No lies, no excess – just fair and simple.

Obviously where the product is fair trade – it is in the interests of the companies invovled to publicise details of the productive process – this is quite the opposite with many TNCs – who spend billions of dollars each year promoting their corporate brands but try to hide from view details of the lives of workers who produce the things that you and I (probably you more than I!) consume in our ignorance.

Perhaps apple should attach details to every ipod or pad outlining the conditions under which their ipods were produced – maybe including the name of one of the ten workers who have committed suicide after working in the aweful conditions in the Chinese factories where they are produced – maybe including the option to contribute to the family of the deceased?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/tenth-worker-at-ipad-factory-commits-suicide-1982897.html

Perhaps Coke should put photos of the farmers who no longer have access to water because their local Coke bottling plant drained all the water to make that aweful beverage? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyFsodVUd-o&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRFyfTnxj80&feature=related

Surely consumers need access to such information in order to make informed choices about the products they buy! And I’m sure there’s some economic theory out there somewhere that market actors require effective access to information in order for the system to work more efectively??

Anyway, the message is – research before you buy – and then buy ethically – and if you can’t give up unethical products completely at least buy less of them or contact the companies and ask them to start treating their workers and neighbours with some respect – you would demand the same of others I am sure!

Karl.

Recommended documentaries – mainly anti-corporate

This is a list of good documentaries – mostly relevant to the module on Global Development and most of them with a broadly anti-capitalist slant. 

Most summaries are taken from the Internet Movie Database

Sweet Crude (2010) Sandi Cioffi – In a small corner of the most populous country in Africa, billions of dollars of crude oil flow under the feet of a desperate people. Immense wealth and abject poverty stand in stark contrast. The environment is decimated. The issues are complex, the answers elusive. The documentary film Sweet Crude tells the story of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. The region is seething and the global stakes are high. http://www.sweetcrudemovie.com/home.php

Capitalism: A Love Story (2010) Michael Moore – examines the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans http://www.michaelmoore.com/books-films/capitalism-love-story

The Age of Stupid (2009) Fanny Armstrong – A future archivist looks at old footage from the year 2008 to understand why humankind failed to address climate change.  http://www.ageofstupid.net/

The Shock Doctrine (2009) Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom Investigations of “disaster capitalism”, based on Naomi Klein’s proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance. It is worth nothing that Klein removed her name from the film, but due to stylistic differences.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/28/naomi-klein-winterbottom-shock-doctrine

Black Gold (2007) Mark and Nick Francis – Explores the global coffee trade and looks at how unfair trade rules laid down by the WTO hurt farmers in Ethiopia while Corporations such as Starbucks make a fortune. http://www.blackgoldmovie.com/

The Trap: Whatever happened to our dreams of Freedom? (2007) Adam CurtisThe Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. All three films are available at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-trap/

The War on Democracy (2007) Christopher Martin and John Pilger –  Award winning journalist John Pilger examines the role of Washington in America’s manipulation of Latin American politics during the last 50 years leading up to the struggle by ordinary people to free themselves from poverty and racism. Since the mid 19th Century Latin America has been the ‘backyard’ of the US, a collection of mostly vassal states whose compliant and often brutal regimes have reinforced the ‘invisibility’ of their majority peoples. The film reveals similar CIA policies to be continuing in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. It also looks at the rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez despite ongoing Washington backed efforts to unseat him.

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004) Hubert Sauper – A documentary on the effect of fishing the Nile perch in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria. The predatory fish, which has wiped out the native species, is sold in European supermarkets, while starving Tanzanian families have to make do with the leftovers.

 Farenheit 911 (2004) Michael Moore  – Michael Moore’s view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. http://www.fahrenheit911.com/

The Corporation (2004) Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott Documentary that looks at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance. http://www.thecorporation.com/

The New Rulers of the World (2001) John Pilger – Explores globalisation, looking at the role of the World Bank, The World Trade Organisation and Neo-Liberalism.

A multi-layered critique of capitalism

I’ve spent a few years reading around this subject now, and to my mind there are four levels of critique that seam to be levelled at the Capitalist system – advanced by numerous voices with the Anti-Capitalist movement. I name this my ‘multi – layered critique of the Capitalist system’ – Each is progressively deeper and more difficult to understand, especially no.4!

There are different political view points within the movement – anarchists have different logics of critique to Marxists for example, and there are different theories on how important the state is in relation to Capitalism, these four layers of critique do not relate to those, this system of categorisation is just one way of looking at some of the different angles people take on criticising this callous economic system.  

1. The most basic criticism that the anti-Capitalist movement makes of contemporary Capitalism is that the pursuit of profit often leads to social and environmental harm.  Most of these criticisms focus on Transnational Corporations and Individual capitalists themselves. Examples of this would be a Transnational Corporation exploiting cheap labour in the developing world; polluting an area in pursuit of oil and not clearing it up; or a company profiting from war.

2. Deeper criticisms, in my view, are levelled at the institutions that set the ‘rules of trade’ that allow Capitalists the freedom to do harm while pursuing profit. Clearly, there are laws that prevent corporations making a profit out of killing or enslaving people. We could also establish laws of trade and investment that force Capitalists to pay people enough to have a decent standard of living; we could establish laws that force them to bear the full cost of clearing up any pollution they create, and we could enforce laws that force them to invest in socially useful enterprises, but such laws do not exist, and if anything the rules of global trade tend to favour the Capitalist class over people and planet. The ‘rules of trade’ are set and enforced by global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. Many within the Anti-Capitalist movement are very critical of such institutions.

3. The third layer of critique focuses on the underlying dynamics of the Capitalist system. Two examples of this are Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – in which she argues that pro-corporate, Neo-Liberal policies are often brought in after a society experiences a ‘shock’ – a natural disaster (the Tsunami) or a war (Iraq), for example – thus neo-liberal forms of capitalism require disasters and misfortune in order to advance. Another well developed, yet less known body of theory is that of Zygmunt Bauman who reminds us that Capitalism is a dynamic system which destabilises local communities – and the central dynamic and central problem of Capitalism is that a globally mobile Capitalist elite destabilises the world in pursuit of profit, and the globally immobile poor are left relatively disempowered with communities that are more unequal, more fragmented and more unstable than before Capitalism arrived. He reminds us, and this is important, that the poor are much less able to escape the problems Capitalism creates than the wealthy. Another example of this type of theory would be Wallerstein’s World Systems theory and one might even argue that Habermas’ theory of the colonisation of the lifeworld fits into this  too.

4. The fourth, and deepest, layer of critique comes from David Harvey, and what he calls the ‘unresolved crisis tendencies of Capitalism’. In other words, the means whereby the Capitalist class seeks to increase its profit and wealth actually undermines their ability to maintain profitability in the long term – thus the ‘internal contradictions of the capitalist system’ means that economic growth will only ever occur for relatively short period, say a decade or two, and then the rate of growth will either decline or stagnate, which is what we call an economic crisis. When this happens, Nation States, or international economic institutions typically step in to solve the ‘economic crisis’ – but, according to Harvey, whatever measures are taken to ensure sustained economic growth are doomed to failure mainly because as the international economy grows it becomes harder and harder to maintain the same level of growth. 

Where to go now – see my blogs on these different types of criticisms of the Capitalist system

The Corporation – A must see documentary for all A2 Sociology students

 

It may be a while since its release in 2004, but this is one of the best educational documentaries ever made. The film has an outstanding web site with a wealth of resources http://www.thecorporation.com/ and is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.

One of the main strengths of the film is the interviews with numerous corporate insiders and leading members of the anti-capitalist movement such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky

This documentary effectively documents the huge social and environmental harms done by corporations in the pursuit of profit. By extension you could also see the film as a critique of the neo-liberal policies which gave these corporations the freedom to do these harms and of the whole capitalist system which is based around the competitive accumulation of capital.

Social and Environmental harms done by Corporations

These are just some of the harms that Corporations are responsible for with occasional links and examples

1. Exploitation of people in sweat shopsNike in numerous countries http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

2. Doing Environmental harm to keep costs down (externalities) Shell in Nigeria/ BP in the USA/ Union Carbide and Bhopal  – http://www.bhopal.org/

3. Profiting from the poor through the privatization of things such as water – Bechtel in Bolivia http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=2015806822

4. Profiting from selling goods that are harmful to people and the environmentMonsanto

5. Profiting from war and fearHalliburton in Iraq/ Coke in Bolivia – see relevant chapter in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, also see http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine

6. Working with oppressive regimes in order to make a profit – Coke and the Nazis, Bechtel in Bolivia

7. Manipulating children to buy products they don’t need – McDonalds and Coke

8. Co modifying everything – Corporations try to own everything – some are patenting genes, and some have tried to ‘own water’ – critics say that there should be some things that are not for sale!  

Excerpt from the web site

To assess the “personality” of the corporate “person,” a checklist is employed, using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”:

  • It is self-interested,
  • inherently amoral, callous and deceitful;
  • It breaches social and legal standards to get its way;
  • It does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.”

Interestingly, despite the huge amount of evidence that Corporations can be monstrous, there is recognition that the individuals within the Corporations may be the nicest people you ever meet, and the documentary concludes that what makes Corporations so bad is the competitive economic system in which they have to survive – Corporations, in other words, are seen as products of the Capitalist system.  

The film is very easy to watch over a number of days because of its clear breakdown into a number of distinct chapters.